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How to Write a Winning Business Plan
- Stanley R. Rich
- David E. Gumpert
The business plan admits the entrepreneur to the investment process. Without a plan furnished in advance, many investor groups won’t even grant an interview. And the plan must be outstanding if it is to win investment funds. Too many entrepreneurs, though, continue to believe that if they build a better mousetrap, the world will beat […]
The Idea in Brief
You’ve got a great idea for a new product or service—how can you persuade investors to support it? Flashy PowerPoint slides aren’t enough; you need a winning business plan. A compelling plan accurately reflects the viewpoints of your three key constituencies: the market , potential investors , and the producer (the entrepreneur or inventor of the new offering).
But too many plans are written solely from the perspective of the producer. The problem is that, unless you’ve got your own capital to finance your venture, the only way you’ll get the funding you need is to satisfy the market’s and investors’ needs.
Here’s how to grab their attention.
The Idea in Practice
Emphasize Market Needs
To make a convincing case that a substantial market exists, establish market interest and document your claims.
Establish market interest. Provide evidence that customers are intrigued by your claims about the benefits of the new product or service:
- Let some customers use a product prototype; then get written evaluations.
- Offer the product to a few potential customers at a deep discount if they pay part of the production cost. This lets you determine whether potential buyers even exist.
- Use “reference installations”—statements from initial users, sales reps, distributors, and would-be customers who have seen the product demonstrated.
Document your claims. You’ve established market interest. Now use data to support your assertions about potential growth rates of sales and profits.
- Specify the number of potential customers, the size of their businesses, and the size that is most appropriate to your offering. Remember: Bigger isn’t necessarily better; e.g., saving $10,000 per year in chemical use may mean a lot to a modest company but not to a Du Pont.
- Show the nature of the industry; e.g., franchised weight-loss clinics might grow fast, but they can decline rapidly when competition stiffens. State how you will continually innovate to survive.
- Project realistic growth rates at which customers will accept—and buy—your offering. From there, assemble a credible sales plan and project plant and staffing needs.
Address Investor Needs
Cashing out. Show when and how investors may liquidate their holdings. Venture capital firms usually want to cash out in three to seven years; professional investors look for a large capital appreciation.
Making sound projections. Give realistic, five-year forecasts of profitability. Don’t skimp on the numbers, get overly optimistic about them, or blanket your plan with a smog of figures covering every possible variation.
The price. To figure out how much to invest in your offering, investors calculate your company’s value on the basis of results expected five years after they invest. They’ll want a 35 to 40% return for mature companies—up to 60% for less mature ventures. To make a convincing case for a rich return, get a product in the hands of representative customers—and demonstrate substantial market interest.
A comprehensive, carefully thought-out business plan is essential to the success of entrepreneurs and corporate managers. Whether you are starting up a new business, seeking additional capital for existing product lines, or proposing a new activity in a corporate division, you will never face a more challenging writing assignment than the preparation of a business plan.
- SR Mr. Rich has helped found seven technologically based businesses, the most recent being Advanced Energy Dynamics Inc. of Natick, Massachusetts. He is also a cofounder and has been chairman of the MIT Enterprise forum, which assists emerging growth companies.
- DG Mr. Gumpert is an associate editor of HBR, where he specializes in small business and marketing. He has written several HBR articles, the most recent of which was “The Heart of Entrepreneurship,” coauthored by Howard. H. Stevenson (March–April 1985). This article is adapted from Business Plans That Win $$$ : Lessons from the MIT Enterprise Forum, by Messrs. Rich and Gumpert (Harper & Row, 1985). The authors are also founders of Venture Resource Associates of Grantham, New Hampshire, which provides planning and strategic services to growing enterprises.
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How to Write a Business Plan, Step by Step
Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money .
1. Write an executive summary
2. describe your company, 3. state your business goals, 4. describe your products and services, 5. do your market research, 6. outline your marketing and sales plan, 7. perform a business financial analysis, 8. make financial projections, 9. add additional information to an appendix, business plan tips and resources.
A business plan is a document that outlines your business’s financial goals and explains how you’ll achieve them. A strong, detailed plan will provide a road map for the business’s next three to five years, and you can share it with potential investors, lenders or other important partners.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to writing your business plan.
» Need help writing? Learn about the best business plan software .
This is the first page of your business plan. Think of it as your elevator pitch. It should include a mission statement, a brief description of the products or services offered, and a broad summary of your financial growth plans.
Though the executive summary is the first thing your investors will read, it can be easier to write it last. That way, you can highlight information you’ve identified while writing other sections that go into more detail.
» MORE: How to write an executive summary in 6 steps
Next up is your company description, which should contain information like:
Your business’s registered name.
Address of your business location .
Names of key people in the business. Make sure to highlight unique skills or technical expertise among members of your team.
Your company description should also define your business structure — such as a sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation — and include the percent ownership that each owner has and the extent of each owner’s involvement in the company.
Lastly, it should cover the history of your company and the nature of your business now. This prepares the reader to learn about your goals in the next section.
» MORE: How to write a company overview for a business plan
The third part of a business plan is an objective statement. This section spells out exactly what you’d like to accomplish, both in the near term and over the long term.
If you’re looking for a business loan or outside investment, you can use this section to explain why you have a clear need for the funds, how the financing will help your business grow, and how you plan to achieve your growth targets. The key is to provide a clear explanation of the opportunity presented and how the loan or investment will grow your company.
For example, if your business is launching a second product line, you might explain how the loan will help your company launch the new product and how much you think sales will increase over the next three years as a result.
In this section, go into detail about the products or services you offer or plan to offer.
You should include the following:
An explanation of how your product or service works.
The pricing model for your product or service.
The typical customers you serve.
Your supply chain and order fulfillment strategy.
Your sales strategy.
Your distribution strategy.
You can also discuss current or pending trademarks and patents associated with your product or service.
Lenders and investors will want to know what sets your product apart from your competition. In your market analysis section , explain who your competitors are. Discuss what they do well, and point out what you can do better. If you’re serving a different or underserved market, explain that.
Here, you can address how you plan to persuade customers to buy your products or services, or how you will develop customer loyalty that will lead to repeat business.
» MORE: R e a d our complete guide to small business marketing
If you’re a startup, you may not have much information on your business financials yet. However, if you’re an existing business, you’ll want to include income or profit-and-loss statements, a balance sheet that lists your assets and debts, and a cash flow statement that shows how cash comes into and goes out of the company.
You may also include metrics such as:
Net profit margin: the percentage of revenue you keep as net income.
Current ratio: the measurement of your liquidity and ability to repay debts.
Accounts receivable turnover ratio: a measurement of how frequently you collect on receivables per year.
This is a great place to include charts and graphs that make it easy for those reading your plan to understand the financial health of your business.
» NerdWallet’s picks for setting up your business finances:
The best business checking accounts .
The best business credit cards .
The best accounting software .
This is a critical part of your business plan if you’re seeking financing or investors. It outlines how your business will generate enough profit to repay the loan or how you will earn a decent return for investors.
Here, you’ll provide your business’s monthly or quarterly sales, expenses and profit estimates over at least a three-year period — with the future numbers assuming you’ve obtained a new loan.
Accuracy is key, so carefully analyze your past financial statements before giving projections. Your goals may be aggressive, but they should also be realistic.
List any supporting information or additional materials that you couldn’t fit in elsewhere, such as resumes of key employees, licenses, equipment leases, permits, patents, receipts, bank statements, contracts and personal and business credit history. If the appendix is long, you may want to consider adding a table of contents at the beginning of this section.
How Much Do You Need?
Here are some tips to help your business plan stand out:
Avoid over-optimism: If you’re applying for a business loan at a local bank, the loan officer likely knows your market pretty well. Providing unreasonable sales estimates can hurt your chances of loan approval.
Proofread: Spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors can jump off the page and turn off lenders and prospective investors, taking their mind off your business and putting it on the mistakes you made. If writing and editing aren't your strong suit, you may want to hire a professional business plan writer, copy editor or proofreader.
Use free resources: SCORE is a nonprofit association that offers a large network of volunteer business mentors and experts who can help you write or edit your business plan. You can search for a mentor or find a local SCORE chapter for more guidance.
The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Small Business Development Centers , which provide free business consulting and help with business plan development, can also be a resource.
On a similar note...
How to Write the Perfect Business Plan: 10 Essential Steps
Whether you’re starting a new small business or are already years into operating one, a business plan is one of the best ways to clarify your long-term vision. Follow our step-by-step guide to writing a highly effective business plan.
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hether you’re starting a new small business or are already years into operating one, a business plan is one of the best ways to clarify your long-term vision. While every business plan is different, there are several key elements to consider that will benefit you in the long run.
Follow our step-by-step guide to writing a highly effective business plan.
What is a business plan?
A business plan is a document that outlines your business goals and how you plan to achieve them. Ideally, this will become your roadmap for marketing, sales, finance, and growth.
In other words, a business plan is...
- An explanation of your overall vision.
- A valuable tool to plan and track your business fundamentals.
- An overview of your path to profitability, which can help get funding for your company.
Do You Need A Business Plan?
While it’s not a requirement, having a business plan is strongly recommended. In a recent QuickBooks survey , nearly 70% of current business owners recommended writing a business plan.
Creating a business plan is especially useful in the following scenarios:
- Applying for business loans
- Seeking additional rounds of funding or investors
- Growing your employee headcount
- Attracting top-level management candidates
- Looking for opportunities to scale your business
10 Steps To Creating A Comprehensive Business Plan
While not every business plan is the same, there are a few key steps you should take to create an effective and comprehensive document:
1. Create an executive summary
Think of an executive summary as your company's elevator pitch in written form. It should be 1 to 2 pages in length and summarize important information about your company and goals. If you are pitching your business plan to get funding, you should ensure your executive summary appeals to investors.
What should you include in an executive summary?
- An overview of your business
- Your company mission statement
- A concise description of products or services offered
- A description of your target market and customer demographics
- A brief analysis of your competition
- Financial projections and funding requirements
- Information about your management team
- Future plans and growth opportunities
- An overall summary of your business plan
2. Write your company description
Your company description is a more detailed and comprehensive explanation of your business. It should provide a thorough overview of your company, including your company history, your mission, your objectives, and your vision. A company description should help the reader understand the context and background of the business, as well as the key factors that contribute to its success.
What should you include in your company description?
- Official company name
- Type of business structure
- Physical address(es)
- Company history and background information
- Mission statement and core values
- Management team members and their qualifications
- Products and services offered
- Target market and customer demographics
- Marketing and sales strategy
- Goals (both short- and long-term)
- Vision statement
Novo Note : The company description is your chance to expound on the pain points your company solves. It should also give a reader an accurate impression of who you are.
3. Conduct and outline market analysis
This is one of the most important steps in building a business plan. Here, you will assess the size and dynamics of the market your business operates in.
How to conduct a market analysis
Market analyses include both quantitative and qualitative data. You may want to conduct surveys or lean on existing industry research to gather this information. You’ll want to answer:
- What is the size of the market?
- How much revenue does your industry generate?
- What trends are impacting this industry?
- Where are opportunities for innovation?
- What are the most well-known companies in the industry? What tactics do they use to sell to customers? How do they price their offering?
- Where are there gaps in the market?
- What are your customer demographics? What problems do they have that need solving? What are their values, desires, and purchasing habits?
- What barriers to entry, if any, exist? These could include startup costs, legal requirements, environmental conditions that impact consumer behavior, and market saturation.
What is your target market?
In this section, you will specify the customer segment(s) you’re targeting . You can divide customers into small segments organized by age, location, income, and lifestyle. The goal is to describe what type of consumer will be most interested in your offering.
Novo Note : Regardless of your company’s size, understanding the trends and opportunities within your target market enables you to build a more effective marketing plan to distinguish yourself from the marketplace and grow your business. This analysis might also help you find potential customers or new products you could offer.
4. Analyze your competitors
After conducting a market analysis, you need to do a deep dive into your competitors. Look at how the competition is succeeding or failing and how each competitor has positioned itself. For example, you might want to evaluate your competitors’ brand, pricing, and distribution strategies.
How to conduct a competitive analysis
You’ll want to research your competitors and ask the following questions:
- What are their strengths?
- What are their weaknesses?
- What are their customer reviews like?
- How do they price their offering(s)?
- What are their value propositions?
- What marketing and sales channels do they leverage?
- How are they growing and evolving?
Novo Note : After you develop a strong understanding of the competitive landscape, consider how your business is unique. Solidifying your competitive advantage can help you appeal to your target audience.
5. Describe your products or services
This is your chance to go into more detail about the products and services you offer! Use this opportunity to note where your offering or service differs from others in the industry. Highlight the standout features of your product, your company’s unique ability to solve customer problems, and your product roadmap.
What to include:
- Your product catalog
- Key differentiating features
- Information about the production process
- The resources required for production
- Plans for future product releases
6. Define your marketing and sales strategy
Your marketing plan describes your strategy for connecting with your target market and generating leads. It doesn't need to be full-fledged at this point, but it should answer who you're trying to sell to and how you plan to target them. Investors also want to know how you plan on selling your brand and breaking into the market, so make sure to consider their perspective as you develop your marketing strategy.
- Your sales and marketing budget
- Your key sales and marketing objectives
- Details about your sales process and sales goals
- Platforms or strategies you’ll employ to reach your target audience
- PR initiatives, content ideas, and social media strategies
7. Gather your business financials and outline financial projections
Your financials section lays out your company's past and current performance. You can also include a roadmap that dives into financial projections for your business. Aim to include projections for the next five years at a minimum.
- Income statements
- Cash flow statements
- Balance sheets
- Explanation of any significant changes
Novo Note : Novo offers integrations with accounting software like Quickbooks and Xero , allowing you to seamlessly access all your financial information within your checking account.
8. Describe your organization
Your business plan should also include an organizational chart that maps your company’s structure.
What to include :
- Company’s management structure
- Other key personnel, along with their roles and responsibilities
- Expertise of your team (feature any specialists or experts)
Novo Note : This is also a good place to explain the legal structure of your company — for example, if you are an LLC, a corporation, or a sole proprietorship.
9. Outline your funding requests
If you’re looking for business funding, include an outline of any funding requests and requirements.
- Why you are requesting funding
- What the funding will be used for specifically
- Desired terms and conditions of funding
- The length of time over which the funding will be used
- Type of funding required (for example, debt or equity)
Novo Note : Propose a five-year funding plan, and aim to be as detailed as possible about how you will utilize the funds to grow your business.
10. Create an appendix
The last section, the appendix, includes supporting documents and additional information not listed elsewhere in your business plan. Not all of these items are necessary to include, so you’ll need to evaluate which are most relevant to your business. You might also want to include a table of contents to help keep the appendix organized.
Items to consider including:
- Bank statements
- Business credit history
- Legal documents
- Letters of reference
Sample Business Plans
Need an example to help you through the process? Check out the Small Business Administration’s downloadable examples or this even more in-depth one from Harvard Business School.
Tips For Creating A Great Business Plan
Here are some of our favorite tips for creating the most effective and efficient business plan:
- Keep it short and sweet : You want to be sure people will actually read your business plan, so stay on topic and to the point.
- Make it digestible : No need to use the fanciest terminology or draft up the most complex graphs. Keep wording and ideas simple and straightforward — it’s the most impactful way to get your information across.
- Triple-check your work : There’s nothing worse than noticing a grammar, spelling, or mathematical error when you’re presenting your vision. So proofread… and then proofread again!
- Start early : It’s never too late to write a business plan, but the earlier you do it, the stronger your strategy for growth and expansion will be from the start.
- Reference credible sources : If you are going to reference third-party research in your business plan, lean on sources that are widely recognized as authorities. Try tapping into trade associations and government resources, like U.S. Census data or data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Set yourself apart : Wherever you can, explain why your product or service stands out and how it can solve a problem.
- Be objective : Avoid the instinct to only showcase the good. Stakeholders and investors want to know that you are realistic and have a contingency plan if you hit a bump in the road.
Updating Your Business Plan
As with most situations in business (and life), things change! So don’t think that your business plan has to be set in stone after you create it. Instead, you should plan to return to it once a year and make updates.
Be sure to do the following when you review and update your business plan:
- Analyze your progress: Review your original business plan and compare it to your actual financial data. Are you moving in the right direction, or do you need to reevaluate your strategy?
- Consider whether your product offerings need to be adjusted: For example, decide if you want to diversify your product offerings or scale back and focus on a singular product.
- Reassess your overall goals: Perhaps your sales goals have changed with your new marketing strategy. Or maybe your customer’s needs have changed. In any case, be flexible where needed.
We know there’s a lot that goes into creating a business plan, but it’s worth it. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for developing a business plan, but our steps outlined above will put you on the right track for developing a comprehensive, investor-friendly document.
Take time to review your business plan annually and make changes as your needs and goals change.
Novo Platform Inc. strives to provide accurate information but cannot guarantee that this content is correct, complete, or up-to-date. This page is for informational purposes only and is not financial or legal advice nor an endorsement of any third-party products or services. All products and services are presented without warranty. Novo Platform Inc. does not provide any financial or legal advice, and you should consult your own financial, legal, or tax advisors.
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How to Write a Business Plan: Step-by-Step Guide + Examples
24 min. read
Updated November 30, 2023
Writing a business plan doesn’t have to be complicated.
In this step-by-step guide, you’ll learn how to write a business plan that’s detailed enough to impress bankers and potential investors, while giving you the tools to start, run, and grow a successful business.
- The basics of business planning
If you’re reading this guide, then you already know why you need a business plan .
You understand that planning helps you:
- Raise money
- Grow strategically
- Keep your business on the right track
As you start to write your plan, it’s useful to zoom out and remember what a business plan is .
At its core, a business plan is an overview of the products and services you sell, and the customers that you sell to. It explains your business strategy: how you’re going to build and grow your business, what your marketing strategy is, and who your competitors are.
Most business plans also include financial forecasts for the future. These set sales goals, budget for expenses, and predict profits and cash flow.
A good business plan is much more than just a document that you write once and forget about. It’s also a guide that helps you outline and achieve your goals.
After completing your plan, you can use it as a management tool to track your progress toward your goals. Updating and adjusting your forecasts and budgets as you go is one of the most important steps you can take to run a healthier, smarter business.
We’ll dive into how to use your plan later in this article.
There are many different types of plans , but we’ll go over the most common type here, which includes everything you need for an investor-ready plan. However, if you’re just starting out and are looking for something simpler—I recommend starting with a one-page business plan . It’s faster and easier to create.
It’s also the perfect place to start if you’re just figuring out your idea, or need a simple strategic plan to use inside your business.
What’s your biggest business challenge right now?
Dig deeper : How to write a one-page business plan
- What to include in your business plan
The executive summary is an overview of your business and your plans. It comes first in your plan and is ideally just one to two pages. Most people write it last because it’s a summary of the complete business plan.
Ideally, the executive summary can act as a stand-alone document that covers the highlights of your detailed plan.
In fact, it’s common for investors to ask only for the executive summary when evaluating your business. If they like what they see in the executive summary, they’ll often follow up with a request for a complete plan, a pitch presentation , or more in-depth financial forecasts .
Your executive summary should include:
- A summary of the problem you are solving
- A description of your product or service
- An overview of your target market
- A brief description of your team
- A summary of your financials
- Your funding requirements (if you are raising money)
Dig Deeper: How to write an effective executive summary
Products and services description
This is where you describe exactly what you’re selling, and how it solves a problem for your target market. The best way to organize this part of your plan is to start by describing the problem that exists for your customers. After that, you can describe how you plan to solve that problem with your product or service.
This is usually called a problem and solution statement .
To truly showcase the value of your products and services, you need to craft a compelling narrative around your offerings. How will your product or service transform your customers’ lives or jobs? A strong narrative will draw in your readers.
This is also the part of the business plan to discuss any competitive advantages you may have, like specific intellectual property or patents that protect your product. If you have any initial sales, contracts, or other evidence that your product or service is likely to sell, include that information as well. It will show that your idea has traction , which can help convince readers that your plan has a high chance of success.
Your target market is a description of the type of people that you plan to sell to. You might even have multiple target markets, depending on your business.
A market analysis is the part of your plan where you bring together all of the information you know about your target market. Basically, it’s a thorough description of who your customers are and why they need what you’re selling. You’ll also include information about the growth of your market and your industry .
Try to be as specific as possible when you describe your market.
Include information such as age, income level, and location—these are what’s called “demographics.” If you can, also describe your market’s interests and habits as they relate to your business—these are “psychographics.”
Related: Target market examples
Essentially, you want to include any knowledge you have about your customers that is relevant to how your product or service is right for them. With a solid target market, it will be easier to create a sales and marketing plan that will reach your customers. That’s because you know who they are, what they like to do, and the best ways to reach them.
Next, provide any additional information you have about your market.
What is the size of your market ? Is the market growing or shrinking? Ideally, you’ll want to demonstrate that your market is growing over time, and also explain how your business is positioned to take advantage of any expected changes in your industry.
Dig Deeper: Learn how to write a market analysis
Part of defining your business opportunity is determining what your competitive advantage is. To do this effectively, you need to know as much about your competitors as your target customers.
Every business has some form of competition. If you don’t think you have competitors, then explore what alternatives there are in the market for your product or service.
For example: In the early years of cars, their main competition was horses. For social media, the early competition was reading books, watching TV, and talking on the phone.
A good competitive analysis fully lays out the competitive landscape and then explains how your business is different. Maybe your products are better made, or cheaper, or your customer service is superior. Maybe your competitive advantage is your location – a wide variety of factors can ultimately give you an advantage.
Dig Deeper: How to write a competitive analysis for your business plan
Marketing and sales plan
The marketing and sales plan covers how you will position your product or service in the market, the marketing channels and messaging you will use, and your sales tactics.
The best place to start with a marketing plan is with a positioning statement .
This explains how your business fits into the overall market, and how you will explain the advantages of your product or service to customers. You’ll use the information from your competitive analysis to help you with your positioning.
For example: You might position your company as the premium, most expensive but the highest quality option in the market. Or your positioning might focus on being locally owned and that shoppers support the local economy by buying your products.
Once you understand your positioning, you’ll bring this together with the information about your target market to create your marketing strategy .
This is how you plan to communicate your message to potential customers. Depending on who your customers are and how they purchase products like yours, you might use many different strategies, from social media advertising to creating a podcast. Your marketing plan is all about how your customers discover who you are and why they should consider your products and services.
While your marketing plan is about reaching your customers—your sales plan will describe the actual sales process once a customer has decided that they’re interested in what you have to offer.
If your business requires salespeople and a long sales process, describe that in this section. If your customers can “self-serve” and just make purchases quickly on your website, describe that process.
A good sales plan picks up where your marketing plan leaves off. The marketing plan brings customers in the door and the sales plan is how you close the deal.
Together, these specific plans paint a picture of how you will connect with your target audience, and how you will turn them into paying customers.
Dig deeper: What to include in your sales and marketing plan
The operations section describes the necessary requirements for your business to run smoothly. It’s where you talk about how your business works and what day-to-day operations look like.
Depending on how your business is structured, your operations plan may include elements of the business like:
- Supply chain management
- Manufacturing processes
- Equipment and technology
Some businesses distribute their products and reach their customers through large retailers like Amazon.com, Walmart, Target, and grocery store chains.
These businesses should review how this part of their business works. The plan should discuss the logistics and costs of getting products onto store shelves and any potential hurdles the business may have to overcome.
If your business is much simpler than this, that’s OK. This section of your business plan can be either extremely short or more detailed, depending on the type of business you are building.
For businesses selling services, such as physical therapy or online software, you can use this section to describe the technology you’ll leverage, what goes into your service, and who you will partner with to deliver your services.
Dig Deeper: Learn how to write the operations chapter of your plan
Key milestones and metrics
Although it’s not required to complete your business plan, mapping out key business milestones and the metrics can be incredibly useful for measuring your success.
Good milestones clearly lay out the parameters of the task and set expectations for their execution. You’ll want to include:
- A description of each task
- The proposed due date
- Who is responsible for each task
If you have a budget, you can include projected costs to hit each milestone. You don’t need extensive project planning in this section—just list key milestones you want to hit and when you plan to hit them. This is your overall business roadmap.
Possible milestones might be:
- Website launch date
- Store or office opening date
- First significant sales
- Break even date
- Business licenses and approvals
You should also discuss the key numbers you will track to determine your success. Some common metrics worth tracking include:
- Conversion rates
- Customer acquisition costs
- Profit per customer
- Repeat purchases
It’s perfectly fine to start with just a few metrics and grow the number you are tracking over time. You also may find that some metrics simply aren’t relevant to your business and can narrow down what you’re tracking.
Dig Deeper: How to use milestones in your business plan
Organization and management team
Investors don’t just look for great ideas—they want to find great teams. Use this chapter to describe your current team and who you need to hire . You should also provide a quick overview of your location and history if you’re already up and running.
Briefly highlight the relevant experiences of each key team member in the company. It’s important to make the case for why yours is the right team to turn an idea into a reality.
Do they have the right industry experience and background? Have members of the team had entrepreneurial successes before?
If you still need to hire key team members, that’s OK. Just note those gaps in this section.
Your company overview should also include a summary of your company’s current business structure . The most common business structures include:
- Sole proprietor
Be sure to provide an overview of how the business is owned as well. Does each business partner own an equal portion of the business? How is ownership divided?
Potential lenders and investors will want to know the structure of the business before they will consider a loan or investment.
Dig Deeper: How to write about your company structure and team
Last, but certainly not least, is your financial plan chapter.
Entrepreneurs often find this section the most daunting. But, business financials for most startups are less complicated than you think, and a business degree is certainly not required to build a solid financial forecast.
A typical financial forecast in a business plan includes the following:
- Sales forecast : An estimate of the sales expected over a given period. You’ll break down your forecast into the key revenue streams that you expect to have.
- Expense budget : Your planned spending such as personnel costs , marketing expenses, and taxes.
- Profit & Loss : Brings together your sales and expenses and helps you calculate planned profits.
- Cash Flow : Shows how cash moves into and out of your business. It can predict how much cash you’ll have on hand at any given point in the future.
- Balance Sheet : A list of the assets, liabilities, and equity in your company. In short, it provides an overview of the financial health of your business.
A strong business plan will include a description of assumptions about the future, and potential risks that could impact the financial plan. Including those will be especially important if you’re writing a business plan to pursue a loan or other investment.
Dig Deeper: How to create financial forecasts and budgets
This is the place for additional data, charts, or other information that supports your plan.
Including an appendix can significantly enhance the credibility of your plan by showing readers that you’ve thoroughly considered the details of your business idea, and are backing your ideas up with solid data.
Just remember that the information in the appendix is meant to be supplementary. Your business plan should stand on its own, even if the reader skips this section.
Dig Deeper : What to include in your business plan appendix
Optional: Business plan cover page
Adding a business plan cover page can make your plan, and by extension your business, seem more professional in the eyes of potential investors, lenders, and partners. It serves as the introduction to your document and provides necessary contact information for stakeholders to reference.
Your cover page should be simple and include:
- Company logo
- Business name
- Value proposition (optional)
- Business plan title
- Completion and/or update date
- Address and contact information
- Confidentiality statement
Just remember, the cover page is optional. If you decide to include it, keep it very simple and only spend a short amount of time putting it together.
Dig Deeper: How to create a business plan cover page
How to use AI to help write your business plan
Generative AI tools such as ChatGPT can speed up the business plan writing process and help you think through concepts like market segmentation and competition. These tools are especially useful for taking ideas that you provide and converting them into polished text for your business plan.
The best way to use AI for your business plan is to leverage it as a collaborator , not a replacement for human creative thinking and ingenuity.
AI can come up with lots of ideas and act as a brainstorming partner. It’s up to you to filter through those ideas and figure out which ones are realistic enough to resonate with your customers.
There are pros and cons of using AI to help with your business plan . So, spend some time understanding how it can be most helpful before just outsourcing the job to AI.
Learn more: How to collaborate with AI on your business plan
- Writing tips and strategies
To help streamline the business plan writing process, here are a few tips and key questions to answer to make sure you get the most out of your plan and avoid common mistakes .
Determine why you are writing a business plan
Knowing why you are writing a business plan will determine your approach to your planning project.
For example: If you are writing a business plan for yourself, or just to use inside your own business , you can probably skip the section about your team and organizational structure.
If you’re raising money, you’ll want to spend more time explaining why you’re looking to raise the funds and exactly how you will use them.
Regardless of how you intend to use your business plan , think about why you are writing and what you’re trying to get out of the process before you begin.
Keep things concise
Probably the most important tip is to keep your business plan short and simple. There are no prizes for long business plans . The longer your plan is, the less likely people are to read it.
So focus on trimming things down to the essentials your readers need to know. Skip the extended, wordy descriptions and instead focus on creating a plan that is easy to read —using bullets and short sentences whenever possible.
Have someone review your business plan
Writing a business plan in a vacuum is never a good idea. Sometimes it’s helpful to zoom out and check if your plan makes sense to someone else. You also want to make sure that it’s easy to read and understand.
Don’t wait until your plan is “done” to get a second look. Start sharing your plan early, and find out from readers what questions your plan leaves unanswered. This early review cycle will help you spot shortcomings in your plan and address them quickly, rather than finding out about them right before you present your plan to a lender or investor.
If you need a more detailed review, you may want to explore hiring a professional plan writer to thoroughly examine it.
Use a free business plan template and business plan examples to get started
Knowing what information you need to cover in a business plan sometimes isn’t quite enough. If you’re struggling to get started or need additional guidance, it may be worth using a business plan template.
If you’re looking for a free downloadable business plan template to get you started, download the template used by more than 1 million businesses.
Or, if you just want to see what a completed business plan looks like, check out our library of over 550 free business plan examples .
We even have a growing list of industry business planning guides with tips for what to focus on depending on your business type.
Common pitfalls and how to avoid them
It’s easy to make mistakes when you’re writing your business plan. Some entrepreneurs get sucked into the writing and research process, and don’t focus enough on actually getting their business started.
Here are a few common mistakes and how to avoid them:
Not talking to your customers : This is one of the most common mistakes. It’s easy to assume that your product or service is something that people want. Before you invest too much in your business and too much in the planning process, make sure you talk to your prospective customers and have a good understanding of their needs.
- Overly optimistic sales and profit forecasts: By nature, entrepreneurs are optimistic about the future. But it’s good to temper that optimism a little when you’re planning, and make sure your forecasts are grounded in reality.
- Spending too much time planning: Yes, planning is crucial. But you also need to get out and talk to customers, build prototypes of your product and figure out if there’s a market for your idea. Make sure to balance planning with building.
- Not revising the plan: Planning is useful, but nothing ever goes exactly as planned. As you learn more about what’s working and what’s not—revise your plan, your budgets, and your revenue forecast. Doing so will provide a more realistic picture of where your business is going, and what your financial needs will be moving forward.
- Not using the plan to manage your business: A good business plan is a management tool. Don’t just write it and put it on the shelf to collect dust – use it to track your progress and help you reach your goals.
- Presenting your business plan
The planning process forces you to think through every aspect of your business and answer questions that you may not have thought of. That’s the real benefit of writing a business plan – the knowledge you gain about your business that you may not have been able to discover otherwise.
With all of this knowledge, you’re well prepared to convert your business plan into a pitch presentation to present your ideas.
A pitch presentation is a summary of your plan, just hitting the highlights and key points. It’s the best way to present your business plan to investors and team members.
Dig Deeper: Learn what key slides should be included in your pitch deck
Use your business plan to manage your business
One of the biggest benefits of planning is that it gives you a tool to manage your business better. With a revenue forecast, expense budget, and projected cash flow, you know your targets and where you are headed.
And yet, nothing ever goes exactly as planned – it’s the nature of business.
That’s where using your plan as a management tool comes in. The key to leveraging it for your business is to review it periodically and compare your forecasts and projections to your actual results.
Start by setting up a regular time to review the plan – a monthly review is a good starting point. During this review, answer questions like:
- Did you meet your sales goals?
- Is spending following your budget?
- Has anything gone differently than what you expected?
Now that you see whether you’re meeting your goals or are off track, you can make adjustments and set new targets.
Maybe you’re exceeding your sales goals and should set new, more aggressive goals. In that case, maybe you should also explore more spending or hiring more employees.
Or maybe expenses are rising faster than you projected. If that’s the case, you would need to look at where you can cut costs.
A plan, and a method for comparing your plan to your actual results , is the tool you need to steer your business toward success.
Learn More: How to run a regular plan review
Free business plan templates and examples
Kickstart your business plan writing with one of our free business plan templates or recommended tools.
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How to write a business plan FAQ
What is a business plan?
A document that describes your business , the products and services you sell, and the customers that you sell to. It explains your business strategy, how you’re going to build and grow your business, what your marketing strategy is, and who your competitors are.
What are the benefits of a business plan?
A business plan helps you understand where you want to go with your business and what it will take to get there. It reduces your overall risk, helps you uncover your business’s potential, attracts investors, and identifies areas for growth.
Having a business plan ultimately makes you more confident as a business owner and more likely to succeed for a longer period of time.
What are the 7 steps of a business plan?
The seven steps to writing a business plan include:
- Write a brief executive summary
- Describe your products and services.
- Conduct market research and compile data into a cohesive market analysis.
- Describe your marketing and sales strategy.
- Outline your organizational structure and management team.
- Develop financial projections for sales, revenue, and cash flow.
- Add any additional documents to your appendix.
What are the 5 most common business plan mistakes?
There are plenty of mistakes that can be made when writing a business plan. However, these are the 5 most common that you should do your best to avoid:
- 1. Not taking the planning process seriously.
- Having unrealistic financial projections or incomplete financial information.
- Inconsistent information or simple mistakes.
- Failing to establish a sound business model.
- Not having a defined purpose for your business plan.
What questions should be answered in a business plan?
Writing a business plan is all about asking yourself questions about your business and being able to answer them through the planning process. You’ll likely be asking dozens and dozens of questions for each section of your plan.
However, these are the key questions you should ask and answer with your business plan:
- How will your business make money?
- Is there a need for your product or service?
- Who are your customers?
- How are you different from the competition?
- How will you reach your customers?
- How will you measure success?
How long should a business plan be?
The length of your business plan fully depends on what you intend to do with it. From the SBA and traditional lender point of view, a business plan needs to be whatever length necessary to fully explain your business. This means that you prove the viability of your business, show that you understand the market, and have a detailed strategy in place.
If you intend to use your business plan for internal management purposes, you don’t necessarily need a full 25-50 page business plan. Instead, you can start with a one-page plan to get all of the necessary information in place.
What are the different types of business plans?
While all business plans cover similar categories, the style and function fully depend on how you intend to use your plan. Here are a few common business plan types worth considering.
Traditional business plan: The tried-and-true traditional business plan is a formal document meant to be used when applying for funding or pitching to investors. This type of business plan follows the outline above and can be anywhere from 10-50 pages depending on the amount of detail included, the complexity of your business, and what you include in your appendix.
Business model canvas: The business model canvas is a one-page template designed to demystify the business planning process. It removes the need for a traditional, copy-heavy business plan, in favor of a single-page outline that can help you and outside parties better explore your business idea.
One-page business plan: This format is a simplified version of the traditional plan that focuses on the core aspects of your business. You’ll typically stick with bullet points and single sentences. It’s most useful for those exploring ideas, needing to validate their business model, or who need an internal plan to help them run and manage their business.
Lean Plan: The Lean Plan is less of a specific document type and more of a methodology. It takes the simplicity and styling of the one-page business plan and turns it into a process for you to continuously plan, test, review, refine, and take action based on performance. It’s faster, keeps your plan concise, and ensures that your plan is always up-to-date.
What’s the difference between a business plan and a strategic plan?
A business plan covers the “who” and “what” of your business. It explains what your business is doing right now and how it functions. The strategic plan explores long-term goals and explains “how” the business will get there. It encourages you to look more intently toward the future and how you will achieve your vision.
However, when approached correctly, your business plan can actually function as a strategic plan as well. If kept lean, you can define your business, outline strategic steps, and track ongoing operations all with a single plan.
See why 1.2 million entrepreneurs have written their business plans with LivePlan
Noah is currently the COO at Palo Alto Software, makers of the online business plan app LivePlan.
Table of Contents
- Use AI to help write your plan
- Common planning mistakes
- Manage with your business plan
- Templates and examples
6 Min. Read
How to Write a Business Plan in Under an Hour
9 Min. Read
How to Create a Sales Plan for Your Business
Do This One Thing Before You Write Your Business Plan
14 Min. Read
How to Write a Five-Year Business Plan
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How To Write A Business Plan In Just 9 Simple Steps
A good business plan should have information about what your company wants to achieve, what it sells or does, and how it manages money.
In the world of entrepreneurship, a well-crafted business plan serves as your North Star, guiding your startup from conception to success. Whether you’re seeking investors or simply aiming to align your team’s efforts, a solid business plan is essential. In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through the process of creating a business plan that not only impresses but also drives your venture forward.
What is a business plan?
Click to view real business plan samples or examples, the importance of a business plan, types of business plan, one page business plan template, lean business plan template, 1. crafting the perfect executive summary, 2. painting a vivid business picture, 3. mastering market analysis, 4. presenting your products or services, 5. the road to sales and marketing success, 6. building a winning team, 7. funding request (if applicable), 8. navigating financial projections, 9.supporting documents in the appendix, how to write a business plan (2023 guide), how to write a winning business plan, tips for success, leveraging a business planner: your path to a strong business plan.
A business plan is a comprehensive document that outlines a company’s goals, strategies, financial projections, and other key details to guide its operations and attract investors or lenders.
Before we delve into the specifics, let’s first understand why a business plan is so crucial for any business endeavor. A business plan is more than just a document; it’s a strategic tool that helps you define your business goals, chart your course of action, and secure the resources necessary for success. It serves as a communication tool, providing clarity to stakeholders, from potential investors to your internal team.
- One Page Business Plans .
- Start-ups Business Plans.
- Strategic Business Plans.
- Feasibility Business Plans.
- Internal Business Plans.
Before we start learning how to make a business plan, let’s see what a business plan template looks like.
Check out our collection of various business templates.
How to write a Business Plan, Step by Step
- Crafting the Perfect Executive Summary
- Painting a Vivid Business Picture
- Mastering Market Analysis
- presenting your products and services
- The Road to Sales and Marketing Success
- Building a Winning Team
- Funding request
- Navigating Financial Projections
- Supporting Documents in the Appendix
Looking for someone to write a Business Plan
It will be helpful to hire someone to write a business plan . Our Award-winning business plan writers will help you achieve your business goals.
Consider this as the opening page of your business plan, akin to your elevator pitch. It should encompass a mission statement, a concise portrayal of your products or services, and a general overview of your financial expansion strategies.
While the executive summary serves as the initial point of engagement for your investors, crafting it towards the end of your business plan may prove more effective. This approach allows you to spotlight insights and details uncovered while working on other sections, resulting in a more comprehensive and compelling summary.
Here’s what should be encompassed in the executive summary of your business plan:
- Business purpose. What are the core activities of your business?
- Business objectives and vision. What are your business’s aspirations and goals?
- Product or service description and distinctiveness. What are you offering, and what sets it apart?
- Target audience. Who is your customer base?
- Marketing approach. How do you plan to connect with your customers?
- Current financial position. What is your current revenue?
- Projected financial position. What revenue do you anticipate in the future?
- Funding request. How much capital are you seeking?
- Team composition. Who are the individuals involved in the business?
Read more: Executive summary examples
In the Business Description section, you have the opportunity to paint a vivid picture of your business. Here’s what to include:
- Define your business concept and mission. What problem are you solving, and why does it matter?
- Introduce your industry and market. Who are your target customers, and what trends are shaping your field?
- Showcase what makes your business unique and how it stands out in the marketplace.
Read more: How to write company overview or description and its examples
Market analysis is all about understanding your target market and competition. Your goal is to demonstrate that you’ve done your homework. Here’s how:
- Conduct thorough market research to identify opportunities and threats.
- Analyze your target demographics, market size, and trends.
- Identify and assess your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses.
Here are some general guidelines to kickstart your research:
Define your ideal customer profile. Seek government data for insights into your target market’s size, demographics, geographic locations, online behaviors, and purchasing patterns.
Investigate industry trends. Explore consumer and product trends within your industry using resources like Google Trends, trade publications, and insights from industry influencers.
Form educated assumptions. Recognize that you may not have access to perfect, comprehensive data about your entire potential market. Aim to base your estimates on a solid foundation of verifiable data points.
In this section, delve into the specifics of the products or services you provide or intend to provide. Include the following details:
- A comprehensive explanation of how your product or service functions. Your pricing model for the product or service.
- An overview of the typical customers you cater to.
- Insights into your supply chain and approach to order fulfillment.
- Details about your sales strategy.
- Your distribution strategy.
Your marketing and sales strategy outlines how you’ll reach and persuade customers to choose your products or services be sure to:
- Describe your pricing strategy, distribution channels, and promotional efforts.
- Explain how your marketing and sales plan aligns with your broader business goals.
Read more: how to do market research.
These are the following points you must need to write in the building a winning team section.
- Leadership Team: Introduce key members of your leadership team, including their names, roles, and a brief description of their professional backgrounds. Highlight their expertise and how it aligns with your business’s goals.
- Roles and Responsibilities: Specify the responsibilities and functions of each leadership team member. Clearly define who is responsible for what within the organization.
- Biographical Profiles: Provide concise biographical profiles or resumes for top executives, showcasing their relevant qualifications, experiences, and achievements.
- Advisory Board (if applicable): If you have an advisory board, describe its composition and the expertise each member brings. Explain how the advisory board contributes to strategic decision-making.
- Organizational Structure: Present an organizational chart to illustrate the hierarchy and reporting relationships within your company.
- Succession Planning: Discuss your plans for leadership succession and how you intend to ensure continuity in case of key personnel changes.
- Team Development: Mention your strategies for team development, including training, mentorship programs, and ongoing skill enhancement initiatives.
- Cultural Values: Describe the cultural values and principles that guide your organization’s behavior, fostering a positive work environment and alignment with your mission.
- Ethical Standards: Highlight your commitment to ethical business practices, including integrity, transparency, and adherence to industry regulations.
These are the following points you must need to write in the funding section.
- Capital Needs: Clearly state the amount of funding you are seeking and the purpose for which you need it. Whether it’s for startup costs, expansion, working capital, or specific projects, provide a detailed breakdown.
- Use of Funds: Specify how you plan to utilize the funds you’re requesting. Describe the allocation of funds for various purposes, such as equipment purchase, marketing campaigns, staffing, or research and development.
- Financial Projections: Align your funding request with your financial projections. Explain how the injection of capital will impact your revenue, profitability, and growth. Back your projections with realistic and data-backed assumptions.
- Timeline: Outline the timeline for when you need the funding and when you expect to achieve specific milestones or goals with the injected capital.
- Repayment Plan (if applicable): If the funding request involves loans or investments with repayment terms, provide details on your repayment plan, including interest rates, repayment schedules, and collateral if applicable.
- Exit Strategy (if applicable): If investors are involved, discuss your exit strategy. Explain how they can expect to realize a return on their investment, whether through acquisition, IPO, or other means.
- Investor Benefits: Describe any additional benefits or perks that investors might receive, such as equity ownership, voting rights, or participation in decision-making processes.
- Risks and Mitigations: Acknowledge potential risks associated with the funding request and explain how you plan to mitigate these risks, providing reassurance to potential investors.
- Supporting Documents: Include any supporting documents, such as financial statements, pro forma financials, or valuations, to substantiate your funding request and the financial health of your business.
Read more: ways to find investors for your business
If you’re a startup, you might have limited financial data available. However, for established businesses, it’s essential to provide financial documentation, including income or profit-and-loss statements, a balance sheet detailing assets and liabilities, and a cash flow statement illustrating cash inflows and outflows.
You can also incorporate key financial metrics such as:
- Net profit margin: representing the percentage of revenue retained as net income.
- Current ratio: assessing your liquidity and debt repayment capacity.
- Accounts receivable turnover ratio: measuring the frequency of receivables collection annually.
Consider using charts and graphs in this section to visually convey your business’s financial status, making it easier for readers to grasp.
The appendix is where you can include any additional information that supports your plan. This may include:
- Resumes of key team members.
- Detailed market research data.
- Any other documents that add credibility to your plan.
Free: Business Plan Examples
Do you need help creating a business plan? Check out these 14 free, proven business plan examples from different industries to help you write your own.
Crafting a business plan is a crucial step in shaping the future of your venture. To get started, begin with brainstorming an executive summary that succinctly captures your business’s essence. Then, create a company description that paints a vivid picture of your organization. Moving forward, articulate your business goals, ensuring they are specific, measurable, and attainable. Conduct thorough market research to understand your target audience and industry landscape. Next, delve into the financial plan, projecting revenue, expenses, and funding needs. Ultimately, it’s all about the bottom line – your plan should culminate in a clear strategy for financial success. Brainstorming an Executive Summary sets the stage, followed by Creating a Company Description to provide context. Articulating Your Business Goals defines your vision, and Conducting Market Research equips you with essential insights. Building a Financial Plan lays out the financial roadmap, and ultimately, it’s all about the Bottom Line – summarizing your strategy for financial success.
A solid plan provides clarity of vision, outlines strategic goals, and attracts investors. Key components include a compelling executive summary, detailed market research, product/service descriptions, marketing strategies, financial projections, and funding requirements. By incorporating these elements, you’ll be well-prepared to outrank competitors and achieve your entrepreneurial goals.
- Keep your plan concise and focused on the most important details.
- Back up your claims with data and market research.
- Seek feedback from mentors, advisors, or industry experts.
- Regularly review and update your plan to reflect changing circumstances.
While crafting a business plan independently is commendable, seeking the guidance of a skilled business planner can be a game-changer. A business planner or advisor brings expertise, objectivity, and a fresh perspective to your planning process. Here, we explore how collaborating with a business planner can enhance your business plan’s quality and increase your chances of success:
- Expert Insights: A seasoned business planner possesses a deep understanding of market dynamics, industry trends, and successful business strategies. They can provide valuable insights and knowledge to refine your plan.
- Objective Evaluation: An external business planner can offer an unbiased assessment of your ideas and strategies, helping you identify weaknesses and refine your approach.
- Customized Solutions: Business planners tailor their advice to your specific business needs, helping you create a business plan that aligns perfectly with your goals and resources.
- Financial Expertise: Many business planners excel in financial analysis, ensuring that your financial projections are realistic and well-supported.
- Network and Resources: A business planner may have an extensive network and access to resources that can benefit your business, from potential investors to industry connections.
To draft an effective business plan, start with a clear executive summary that outlines your business’s purpose and potential. Conduct thorough market research to understand your industry and target audience. Then, detail your strategies, financial projections, and risk mitigation plans, providing a comprehensive roadmap for your business’s success.
A business plan is a detailed document that outlines your business goals, strategies, and financial projections. It’s essential for securing funding, guiding your business’s growth, and attracting investors.
Business justification is vital as it provides solid reasoning and evidence behind key decisions, enhancing plan credibility and showcasing strategic thinking.
A typical business plan includes sections on the executive summary, company description, market analysis, product/service details, marketing strategy, management team, financial projections, and an appendix.
While the length can vary, a typical business plan is around 20-30 pages. However, it’s essential to prioritize clarity and conciseness over length.
The executive summary should provide a concise overview of your business, highlighting its unique selling points, goals, and financial needs. It’s often the first section investors read.
You can gather market data through online research, surveys, interviews, and industry reports. It’s crucial to understand your target audience, competition, and industry trends.
Begin with an executive summary summarizing your business idea. Conduct market research to understand your industry and competition. Outline your business strategies, financial projections, and goals for a comprehensive plan.
Financial projections should include income statements, cash flow forecasts, and balance sheets. They should be based on realistic assumptions, such as sales forecasts, expenses, and funding needs.
While it’s possible to write a business plan independently, many entrepreneurs seek help from business plan writers, consultants, or mentors for expertise and guidance.
Common mistakes include overestimating sales, neglecting market research, not addressing potential risks, and lacking a clear marketing strategy. Proofreading is also crucial to avoid errors.
It’s a good practice to review and update your business plan annually or when significant changes occur in your business, such as expansion, new products, or financial shifts.
Hey Joseph! I liked your explanation of how to write a business plan, but it left me wondering what it would cost to hire a business plan writer?
Thank you for asking a question. we would like to give you our blog link which briefly states on how to hire a business plan writer and all other information regarding cost to write a business plan Thanks for your comment. I hope this will make a change.
Hey, your blog was very detailed. I absolutely had no idea about how product and service segmentation works, I had a potential product but no idea about the market competitors and how to manage the finances. this helped me a lot but still, I have some doubts that how to hire your team. I will be looking forward to your reply. Thank you!
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